Saturday, April 12

Buying a House

The Courtyard inside Bonnet House
We returned home from Miami late Thursday evening.  On Thursday we visited the Bonnet House gardens in Fort Lauderdale.  I really like that place.  It is the one undeveloped piece of beachfront land between Miami and Palm Beach.  What I most like is the courtyard.  Since it is surrounded by the house, it is a private oasis.

This brings me to a big update:  I've been quietly shopping for houses, and it looks like I finally had an offer accepted.  The property is an ugly foreclosure that needs significant repairs and updating.  Some of the walls and ceilings are missing insulation and Sheetrock from a previous leak, and all the floors are bare except the tiles in the kitchen.  The plan is to move there this summer as soon as I get a couple bedrooms ready to be occupied.  The other work in the house can be done after I get moved in.  My master plan includes creating a backyard oasis inspired by the Bonnet House.

So far April has been a steady month for mystery shopping, hospitality and auditing work.  The next several days I will be working on a business census that entails visiting every business within a designated census area.  I also have several gas stations to shop and a handful of restaurants and grocery stores lined up.

Monday, April 7

Frugal Travel Tip: Keep Checking Rates

By revisiting rates for the hotels and rental car I reserved, I was able to upgrade our accommodations and save money.  Originally we were paying $202 for a rental car and $451+tax for 5 nights lodging.  Now we are paying $122 for a rental car and $373 for 6 nights in upgraded lodging.

I've been in Miami for a few days staffing a registration desk at a conference.  I agreed to the job assuming we would be able to find inexpensive hotels, but was caught off guard when I looked at the astronomical rates.  Since there are two of us sharing a room, we did not have to book the lowest end hotels, but even the mid-tier properties (like Hampton Inn) started in the $150/night range.

Begrudgingly I began making reservations.  Ideally we would have stayed in one hotel throughout the conference.  It's much easier than having to pack up every day to move to the next hotel.  But because rates were ridiculous, that wasn't practical.  Right away, I reserved a Sleep Inn for the last two nights at $76 per night (it was full the other nights).  That rate was acceptable, it was in a decent location, and the reviews were good.

But for the other 3 nights, rates were simply too high.  Originally I booked two nights at a Super 8 in Florida City, which is more than an hour away.  The third night I swallowed my pride and reserved a $143+tax room at a Hilton Garden Inn near the airport.  I already knew I'd be checking hotels as the event neared to see if rates dropped.  As luck would have it, they did.

First two nights:

  • Originally $78+tax at Super 8 in Florida City, 88 miles roundtrip each day, plus tolls.
  • Replaced first night with Hilton Garden Inn MIA, $142, 26 miles roundtrip, no tolls.
  • Rate at Hilton Garden Inn MIA dropped to $130 on 4/2 so I re-booked at lower rate.
  • On 4/3, Homewood Suites MIA dropped to $118.  I changed hotels.
  • Replaced second night with another Hilton property that I mystery shopped:  FREE ROOM!
First two nights changed from $156+tax for a lousy Super 8 an hour away to $118+tax for higher end hotels nearby.

Third night:
  • Originally booked at Hilton Garden Inn for $143+tax
  • On 4/2, rate dropped to $130, so I re-booked at the lower rate.
  • On 4/5, a nearby Hampton Inn reduced rates to $103, so I changed to that hotel.
Rental Car:
  • Reserved with Enterprise by my house.  I used a 10% off coupon and booked a weekly rate.  With tax, it was just over $200.
  • On 4/2, rates at the Clearwater Airport dropped significantly.  It's further away, but by changing my reservation we are saving $80 on our reservation for the same class vehicle.
Bonus Sixth Night:
  • We were coming home on the 9th, but I found a second mystery shop.
  • Sixth night at a chic boutique hotel in South Beach.